05/29/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
Given the flashing cameras and cheering bystanders along their path, the couple strolling up Manhattan's Second Avenue on the evening of May 12 could have been mistaken for royalty. In fact the pair were none other than New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the new woman in his life, Judi Nathan. Just two days after blindsiding his wife, Donna Hanover, by publicly announcing an end to their 16-year marriage, Giuliani dined out on chicken, halibut and devil's food cake with Nathan and three aides. Taking advantage of the warm spring breeze, he then walked his lady friend home. At her tony Upper East Side apartment building, the pair parted with a chaste kiss on the cheek. "I'm going to walk home now," Giuliani told reporters trailing him. "It's a lovely night. Do you want to join me?"
For New Yorkers, the mayor's very public night out was just the latest scene in a city hall saga that has all the elements of a daytime soap: a hard-nosed politician who, diagnosed with cancer, exposes his softer side; a spurned wife who bites back; and not one but two other women—all set against the backdrop of a Senate race against the First Lady, no less.
The drama reached a crescendo on May 10 when Giuliani, 55 and still coming to terms with a recent diagnosis of prostate cancer, announced that he and Hanover, 50, would separate and revealed his relationship with Nathan, 45, a divorced sales manager for the Bristol-Myers Squibb pharmaceutical company. "She helps me a great deal," the mayor said. "I'm going to need her more now than maybe I did before."
Hanover first heard of the separation announcement when a friend called to say she had seen it on TV. Apparently stunned, Hanover promptly called her own press conference. In a trembling voice, she blamed her early troubles with Giuliani on "his relationship" with a former staffer, later confirmed to be onetime communications director Cristyne Lategano. After rumors linking Giuliani and Lategano (who both deny any sexual involvement) in the mid-'90s, Hanover had increasingly distanced herself from her husband and focused on her acting career. Then, she said on May 10, "I made a major effort to bring us back together. Rudy and I reestablished some of our personal intimacy through the fall." Enter Judi Nathan. "At that point," Hanover said, "he chose another path."
Despite the tabloid frenzy that followed, Hanover has no regrets about going public. "There seemed to be a widespread misunderstanding that I didn't care about my marriage," she says. "I cared very much, and that was one of the things I was trying to express."
Notably quiet during the storm was Giuliani's Senate-race rival Hillary Clinton, who is all too familiar with the pain that can come from the public airing of private embarrassments. Political pundits, however, have been quick to weigh in, some concluding that Giuliani is damaged goods and speculating that New York Rep. Rick Lazio might take his place in the race should he drop out. Giuliani was expected to decide shortly whether or not he would remain a candidate. He could be heartened by the fact that, while his health remains an issue, his marital troubles seem not to have registered in polls that place him neck and neck with Clinton. "At least initially," says political consultant George Arzt, "this hasn't hurt him."
In fact, Nathan has proved a tonic for the bristly former federal prosecutor. "This is a woman who cares for him, who is a support to him," says a friend. "This is an important person to him right now in his life." The couple were spotted together as early as last summer. A registered nurse who grew up in Hazleton, Pa., Nathan moved to New York City in 1992 with her adopted daughter Whitney, now 15, after a bitter split with her husband of 12 years, Bruce Nathan, 50, a sales manager for a wallpaper company. Three years later, she moved in with psychologist Manos Zacharioudakis, 36. "The Judi Nathan I knew was a model mother, worker, romantic partner, friend, lover," he says, adding that their five-year romance simply "ran out of steam."
Soon after meeting Giuliani, Nathan began appearing at his side at prominent civic functions, including the city's St. Patrick's Day parade. They dined together at such favorite mayoral haunts as Hanratty's, and he began spending time on weekends at her Southampton condo. "Rudy is not the kind of guy who is going to tiptoe or sneak around," says friend Bud Konheim, the CEO of Nicole Miller. "What you see is what you get."
Today, Hanover might not agree. But back in 1982, just six weeks after meeting him on a blind date, she was sufficiently taken with Giuliani to accept his proposal of marriage. Within three months she had quit her job as an anchor at the NBC affiliate in Miami and moved to be with him in Washington, D.C., where he was an associate attorney general in the Reagan Administration. The couple wed in April 1984. It was the second marriage for both, but this one seemed right. "You know how there are certain bells people can ring of yours?" Giuliani told PEOPLE in 1994. "Donna rang every single one of mine." Their son Andrew arrived in 1986, followed by Caroline in 1989. Recalls Hanover's friend Reese Schonfeld: "I would have bet it was one of the happier marriages I had ever known. If anything, he worshiped her more than she did him."
But by 1995, friends say, things had begun to sour. That September, New York magazine published a piece titled "The Woman Behind the Mayor"—about Cristyne Lategano, not Hanover. "There was definitely a perception there was a rivalry there," says Konheim. "Donna resented the amount of time and access that Cristyne had." Now married to writer Nick Nicholas, 40, and working as head of New York City's visitor's bureau—a position for which she was recommended by Giuliani—Lategano-Nicholas, 35, denies her relationship with the mayor was inappropriate. "He was my mentor," she says. "Unfortunately, women that work closely with male bosses often find their motives questioned."
By 1996, Hanover had stopped using her husband's name, and a 1997 Vanity Fair article that inflamed the Lategano rumors seemed the final blow. "Eventually," says Konheim, "invitations to Gracie Mansion would say, 'Donna Hanover and the Mayor invite you,' but she wasn't there." She was, instead, looking to her future, taking roles in films like The People vs. Larry Flynt and Ransom and guest spots on TV's Ally McBeal, The Practice and Law & Order. "Donna is not running around blabbing about her sorry state, looking for sympathy," says her friend Ellen Levine, editor-in-chief of Good Housekeeping, for which Hanover occasionally writes. "She has gone about her business, raising her kids and working."
After spending Mother's Day with her parents and children in California last week, Hanover returned to the three-bedroom mayor's residence, Gracie Mansion, where she will live with Giuliani until they work out a new arrangement. Unlike her husband, who removed his wedding ring in December, Hanover still wears hers. Whether Nathan will soon sport one of her own remains to be seen. "I'm sure," says former boyfriend Zacharioudakis, "that marriage is a serious possibility."
Sharon Cotliar, Eve Heyn, Joseph V. Tirella, Lucia Greene and Veronica Byrd in New York Cit